3 Key Points When your Children Live with an Addict in Recovery

It’s complicated living with addicts and alcoholics. To be honest, it doesn’t get less complicated when that person is in recovery. It gets even more challenging with young family members who are able to understand and observe addiction but not old enough to grasp concepts such as “brain disease” and “family dysfunction.” Below I list 3 of important ideas to guide you as you include your children in the family recovery  

One: It’s not the child’s fault. The most important thing you can do is to tell your child “It’s not your fault.” This point cannot be overstated, and you probably can’t tell your child enough. Developmentally, children have a me-centric view of the world. They consider themselves to be the center and cause of everything, including the family member’s disease. I encourage you to address this directly.   Tell them in clear, direct language that they didn’t cause the problem.   

  • “It isn’t because you didn’t clean your room or didn’t study enough.”  
  • “It’s not because you didn’t tell the family member “I love you.”   
  • “It’s not because you argued with mom.”  

Be clear, direct, and specific. Children’s brains don’t understand metaphor or nuance. Use concrete language and specifics from your family context to communicate “this is not your fault.”  

Two: Spend time with your children. It’s vital to remember that children move through developmental stages and these stages are not changed due to another family member’s illness – or recovery. Your children need your time, love, attention, and nurture even and especially when you are distracted by other things. They need your interest in their lives, your support with homework and school, and your guidance and encouragement.  Parenting is challenging under the best of circumstances. Often in families struggling with addiction, parents can lose the energy and focus needed to sustain good parenting. I offer a series of sessions to help with parenting.  I also wrote a blog post reviewing a classic and well done parenting book that can be the basis for a healthy parenting paradigm.  

Three: Answer their questions honestly. Your kids may ask “what if it happens again?” These questions may make you uncomfortable. You may find they are wondering about the same things you are. Answer in honest, and age appropriate terms. 

For example, for the above question you may say something like “That would be scary, wouldn’t it? Mommy is trying hard to get well, but sometimes when someone gets sick, they get sick again. We don’t want that to happen, but if it does, remember it’s not your fault.” You might want to work with a professional or other qualified person who is involved with or aware of addiction recovery who can help you anticipate those questions and develop some answers in advance.  

Parenting is a challenging task, made more complicated by life circumstances and stressors. To use a cliché metaphor, it’s necessary to put the oxygen mask on you first before you can help your child. Contact me if you’d like to attend a ½ day intensive where we can develop a balanced plan for recovery during the season of raising a family.  

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Katy, TX 77493

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